Criminal proceedings continued on Monday (8th July) against Scottish gamekeeper Alan Patterson Wilson who is accused of allegedly committing 12 wildlife crimes.
Mr Wilson, 60, is accused of shooting two goshawks, four buzzards, a peregrine falcon, three badgers and an otter at Henlaw Wood, Longformacus, south Scotland between March 2016 and May 2017.
He also faces charges of using a snare likely to cause partial suspension of an animal or drowning, failing to produce snaring records within 21 days when requested to do so by police and having no certificate for an air weapon.
We also believe he is accused of the alleged possession of the banned pesticide, Carbofuran.
Mr Wilson has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
A previous trial date had been set for 13th June 2019 but for unknown reasons the case was adjourned until Monday 8th July. At Monday’s hearing a new trial date was set for 20th August 2019.
For four days last week, ultra marathon runner Henry Morris ran a total of 200 km across the grouse moors of Bowland AONB, Yorkshire Dales National Park and Nidderdale AONB.
Henry was accompanied by a relay team of runners including his brother Ed and friends John and Tim, as well as various other runners who joined in on different days to offer support.
[L-R: John, Ed, Henry & Tim at the start of their extraordinary run, photo by Mark Avery]
The purpose of this extraordinary effort was two-fold: to raise awareness about the illegal killing of hen harriers on grouse moors, and to raise money for Wild Justice to use on hen harrier-related projects.
These guys don’t work in the conservation field – their day jobs are a personal trainer, a nurse, an analyst and a music promoter – but they were inspired to take action after reading about the plight of hen harriers (a recent paper showed that 72% of satellite-tagged hen harriers have been taken out, illegally, on grouse moors) and the absolute scandal that those killing hen harriers are never brought to justice.
Henry put together a website (here), a crowdfunder (here) and planned his route to visit the locations of satellite-tagged hen harriers that had ‘disappeared‘ (most likely been killed). Here’s a map of the route, different colours denote the route for each day and the ‘CP’ marker was the Check Point marker of each missing hen harrier:
On Saturday afternoon, the team reached the finish line in Nidderdale where they were met by friends and family for a well-deserved pint or two at the Stone House Inn at Thruscross.
[Photos by PJ]
What an extraordinary achievement, motivated solely by a desire to do ‘something’ to help hen harriers.
Of course, this has come at a cost. Not just the physical cost of running so far, in such terrain, in so few days, but these guys have also been subjected to personal abuse on social media by the usual trolls from the game-shooting industry. These trolls are predictable in that they’ll attack anyone seen to be helping, or associated with, Wild Justice. We’re sorry, Henry, Ed, John and Tim, that you’ve had to suffer such abuse.
Incredibly, Henry’s crowdfunder has raised a whopping £10,365 so far. If you’d like to show your support to these extraordinary runners, please consider making a small donation HERE
In the last week there have been two big news stories about the illegal persecution of birds of prey in Scotland.
The first was the news that a satellite-tagged hen harrier called Rannoch was found dead on a grouse moor in the Strathbraan raven cull area of Perthshire, with an illegally-set spring trap attached to her leg (see here).
The second was the news of the suspicious disappearance (presumed dead) of satellite-tagged golden eagles Adam and Charlie, who vanished without explanation on the same morning from another grouse moor in the Strathbraan raven cull area (see here).
Both of these news items received massive media interest and coverage, particularly the two missing golden eagles. It was all over social media, mainstream newspapers and websites, radio shows and even a slot on ITN’s News at Ten.
The general public responded to these stories as any decent human being would – with disgust, horror and in some cases, shock that this sort of criminality, both suspected and confirmed, continues within our supposedly progressive society.
Young kids (and some adults) were sufficiently motivated to draw pictures of eagles, write poetry and even create clay models of dead eagles to send to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon:
We know that many others have been sufficiently angered by the news that they’ve been motivated to follow MSP Andy Wightman’s lead and write to the First Minister, urging her to take action (email@example.com).
How come then, with this outpouring of public anger, senior politicians in the Scottish Government, who all routinely use Twitter to engage about their work, have failed to say a single word about either case?
The First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has been silent.
The Environment Cabinet Secretary, Roseanna Cunningham, has been silent.
The Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment, Mairi Gougeon, has been silent.
What’s going on there, then? Should we interpret their collective silence as indifference? That seems pretty unlikely, given that all three politicians have spoken out strongly, passionately and convincingly in the recent past about illegal raptor persecution and their determination to bring it to an end.
So why haven’t they this time? Even the official Twitter channel of the Scottish Government covering the environment and rural economy (@GreenerScotland) has been silent. There was one quote about the two missing eagles, widely used in the media from an unnamed Government spokesman, which simply said:
“The disappearance of any bird of prey in suspicious circumstances is of concern and we would urge anyone with information to contact Police Scotland. ‘We are determined to protect birds of prey and have established an independent group to look at how we can ensure grouse moor management is sustainable and complies with the law“.
This was clearly a bog standard response to enquiries from journalists as we could find no formal statement on the Scottish Government’s website. We didn’t find any statement about the illegally-trapped dead hen harrier either.
It seems remarkable that a wide section of society, young and old, has expressed outrage on many different media platforms over the last week, and yet the three politicians who are key to making progress on this issue, have seemingly suppressed what we’d expect to be the normal human reaction to this news (i.e. expressions of anger, horror, determination for change etc) and instead appear to be toe-ing a party political line by saying absolutely nothing. At all.
The Government’s silence is deeply concerning.
Is it, we wonder, part of a strategy to manage expectations on the forthcoming Werritty Review? Will the Werritty Review fall short of expectations? Remember, Werritty was commissioned on the back of a Government-commissioned scientific review that showed satellite-tagged golden eagles were undoubtedly being killed on some Scottish grouse moors. We all expect Werritty’s review to address this issue head on and propose some tangible, meaningful actions to finally get these crimes under control. Are we going to be disappointed? (Expect an almighty firestorm if that is the case).
Why else might the Scottish Government remain silent, on such a high-profile and topical issue? This silence is the sort of response we’ve come to expect from Environment ministers in Westminster, who have shown nothing but wilful blindness to the extent of raptor persecution crimes in England for decades. This silence is not something we expect from the Scottish Government.
It’s worth remembering that the Scottish Parliament has just celebrated its 20th anniversary. Twenty years ago, when the Parliament was established, the then Secretary of State Donald Dewar described illegal raptor persecution in Scotland as “a national disgrace”. He also said:
“Although we are all aware of individual incidents of wildlife crime in Scotland, such as theft of eggs and shooting and poisoning of birds of prey, it is less well known that illegal persecution of some species, rather than the lack of suitable habitat, is the reason why in some areas the birds are scarce or non-existent. The government, and no doubt the Scottish Parliament will take all possible steps to eliminate persecution. The government is committed to strengthening protection for wildlife, and in due course the Scottish Parliament will consider proposals from the Partnership Against Wildlife Crime for stronger enforcement measures”.
If you’d like to write to the current First Minister and remind her of the importance of ensuring protection for golden eagles and other birds of prey on the grouse moors of Scotland, please consider sending a polite email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
[Hen harrier ‘Rannoch’ found dead on a grouse moor with an illegal trap clamped to her leg. Photo RSPB Scotland]
A young peregrine had to be euthanised after it was found with a broken wing and a shotgun pellet in its chest.
The bird was found in the road at Aldford, part of the Grosvenor Estate in Cheshire, on 17 April 2019 and taken to Lower Moss Wood Wildlife Hospital. An X-ray by Northwich Vets confirmed it had a broken wing and piece of shot in its chest.
Knowing it would not recover from its injuries, the vets took the sad decision to put the bird to sleep.
[Photo of the injured peregrine by Ian Daniels]
Peregrine falcons are the world’s fastest birds, able to reach speeds of 200mph when diving for prey. They nest on moorland, on cliffs and increasingly in towns and cities, usually producing two-four chicks each spring. There are thought to be around 1,500 pairs in the UK.
Like all birds of prey, peregrines are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. To kill or injure one is a criminal offence and could result in an unlimited fine or up to six months in jail.
Cheshire police are now appealing to the public for information.
Only a month before, in March 2019, a raven was found shot dead near Delamere Forest, Cheshire. Police investigated the incident but no leads were identified.
Jenny Shelton from the RSPB’s Investigations Unit said: “Most major cities will have their own ‘peregrine pair’, probably nesting on a cathedral spire or another tall building. Our lives and theirs are becoming increasingly entwined, which is a wonderful and very special thing. However there are still some who want to kill these magnificent birds. This young bird, which would have hatched last year so was just shy of its first birthday, was found in considerable distress with a piece of shot in its chest. Naturally, we want to find out who did this.
There is an unseen culture of raptor persecution in the UK, whereby birds like peregrines, ravens and owls are being illegally killed due to a perceived threat to some people’s interests. If you have any information please contact the police on 101, or speak to us in confidence on our raptor crime hotline: 0300 999 0101.”
PC Ged Gigg, Wildlife officer for Cheshire Police said: “Wildlife crime is a priority for us – my colleagues and I are dedicated to investigating crimes that affect our rural communities. I have been making extensive enquiries in the area and would urge anyone who has any information that may help with this investigation to contact police so that we can find those responsible.”
Two days ago the Hawk and Owl Trust announced the discovery of what was claimed to be a “shot” Marsh harrier close to the boundary of the Sculthorpe Moor nature reserve near Fakenham, Norfolk.
This story has since been reported in the local press and national media including the BBC website.
However, to be completely honest, the evidence to support this claim is not strong.
The bird was seen and photographed by a member of the public, but they were unable to reach the bird to rescue it. The photograph shows a clear injury to the harrier’s wing.
[Photo of the injured Marsh harrier, from Hawk and Owl Trust]
The member of the public then reported the discovery to reserve staff who went to try and locate the bird but it had gone. The report on the Hawk & Owl Trust website says ‘the vegetation was all broken down with only a few feathers left’.
The incident was then reported to the police.
Sorry, but unless there’s part of this story that is being kept under wraps for investigative purposes, it’s not possible to tell from the photograph whether this Marsh harrier had been shot or whether it was injured from, say, a collision with a fence. An x-ray would have confirmed it, of course, but under the circumstances an x-ray wasn’t an option.
Of course, it’s perfectly feasible that this Marsh harrier had been shot – we know this species is routinely targeted whether it be in the lowlands (e.g. see here and here) or on upland grouse moors (e.g. here), hated so much that the Moorland Association has been asking questions about whether licences to kill Marsh harriers might be available (see here). But on this particular occasion, with this particular harrier, more evidence would be required before this should be recorded as a confirmed shooting.
It’s ironic really. Remember, this is the same Hawk & Owl Trust that refused to acknowledge that its satellite-tagged hen harrier Rowan had been shot, despite a conclusive x-ray showing the bird’s shattered leg and, er, fragments of shot:
On Monday (1 July), the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) published a statement on its website in response to the news that golden eagles Adam and Charlie had ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances on a grouse moor in the Strathbraan raven cull area in Perthshire.
It was an astonishingly ill-judged response. It didn’t mention the loss of these two eagles – let alone condemn what looked to be yet another suspicious incident, identical to the loss of so many other sat-tagged eagles on grouse moors. Instead, it focused on the supposed ‘need’ for ‘independent scrutiny’ of satellite tag data (conveniently ignoring the fact that the police now routinely analyse the data of all sat-tagged raptors that have been reported as missing in suspicious circumstances).
To support its argument, the SGA highlight the disappearance of Fred, one of our sat-tagged golden eagles who vanished from the Pentland Hills just outside Edinburgh in January 2018 and whose tag then sent data from the North Sea, several days later, before finally stopping.
According to the SGA, and some of their clueless members/supporters on social media, we apparently withheld some tag data from Police Scotland. Their ‘evidence’ (ahem) to support this claim seems to be centred on two things:
The fact that two videos were filmed by our team on the same day but published several weeks apart; and
An FoI response from Police Scotland in response to some poorly structured questions.
Here’s part of the SGA’s post on the ‘need’ for independent sat tag monitoring:
And here is a copy of the Freedom of Information response from Police Scotland, also posted on the SGA’s website:
It appears the SGA have even persuaded their ‘legal advisors’ to show this ‘evidence’ to the police.
Good grief. Unsurprisingly, the police haven’t come knocking and here’s why (probably) –
Yes, we did film two videos on the same day, and published them weeks apart. So what? We’ve never tried to deny that, but much has been made of it over the past 18 months, much to our amusement and bemusement. Our time is valuable, our schedules are tight, we had our film crew in place, why not make the most of that situation and film as much as we could in one day, instead of having to organise another filming day sometime later?
What the SGA don’t know is that yes, at that time we had the additional meta data (that showed Fred’s tag pinging against various telephone masts on its route from the Pentlands to the North Sea) but we were still working out what those data actually meant (it’s not the type of data we were familiar with) and we filmed several versions of what we thought the data were showing us at that time. We were still taking advice from a number of independent experts for some weeks afterwards, including the police, and when we were happy that we understood the data and the limitations of the data parameters, that was the version that was published several weeks later, with the full support of the police.
The SGA thinks that Police Scotland received Fred’s tag data from us on 26 January (because that is what is implied in the Police’s FoI response). However, that is absolutely not the case, and is simply a reflection of the poorly constructed FoI question. Fred’s suspicious disappearance was reported to Police Scotland on 26 January, yes, but they did not ask to see Fred’s tag data at that time. Presumably because they had every confidence in us as legitimate, well-regarded researchers not to question our report that Fred’s disappearance was highly suspicious, along with the backing of experienced tag data analysts at RSPB Scotland. Let’s face it – if you look at the map showing Fred’s movements in the Pentlands and then several days later he’s suddenly 10 miles offshore in the North Sea, you don’t need to be a golden eagle expert or to look at raw data to know that something isn’t quite right. The police launched an immediate search in the Pentlands (and, for the record, worked admirably for the duration of this investigation).
The tag data and meta data were eventually requested by Police Scotland during a phone call on 19th February. It wasn’t clear why it was only then that the data were being requested but we suspected pressure was being placed on the police by, let’s call them ‘external forces’. The data request was fine by us. It was agreed that it would be good for us to meet and go through the data together, including the meta data files. The earliest date that was mutually convenient for us all was one week later on Monday 26 February. We met, discussed the data and agreed that it would be better for the police to have a copy of the original raw data files directly from the tag manufacturer, rather than our files, just to avoid any accusations that we may have tampered with the files (unfounded accusations which were, of course, doing the rounds on social media by those seeking to discredit us and to distract attention from the circumstances of Fred’s disappearance – those ‘external forces’ again).
Incidentally, it was at this time that SGA Director Bert Burnett claimed on social media that we’d fabricated the whole incident with Fred (and thus perverted the course of justice), and made another claim that Chris Packham had refused to turn over the tag data to the police. Quite astonishing (and defamatory) accusations based on no evidence whatsoever. Nothing new there, then.
Immediately after our meeting with the police to discuss the tag data we contacted the tag manufacturer, gave permission for our data to be shared with the police, put the two parties in touch with one another and the original raw data files were sent to the police on 1 March (as accurately stated in the police’s FoI response).
Where the SGA’s logic completely falls down is this. Why on earth would we want to withhold evidence (the meta data) from the police, especially when we believed that evidence supported our earlier suspicions that Fred had been killed in the Pentlands and then his tag (and perhaps Fred too) was transported by road to North Berwick and dumped in the North Sea?
Sorry, SGA, your desperate attempts to smear and discredit us can be seen for exactly what they, and you, are. Pathetic.
There has been a massive amount of media coverage on the the suspicious disappearance of two satellite-tagged golden eagles, Adam and Charlie, who vanished from a grouse moor in the Strathbraan raven cull area on the same April morning.
Our favourite one, though, so far, is this one from The Herald:
Journalist Jody Harrison first discusses the disappearances of golden eagles Adam and Charlie, but then moves on to some defensive guff put out yesterday by the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA), who seem to think that satellite-tag data aren’t independently scrutinised by the police in each case of a suspicious disappearance (er, asking for the tag data is the first thing the police do when a sat-tagged raptor is reported as missing under suspicious circumstances).
Here’s Chris Packham’s exquisite response to the SGA:
The article also includes a good response from RSPB Scotland’s Ian Thomson, who not only accuses the SGA of trying to “muddy the waters” but also welcomes the idea of independent scrutiny, especially if it’s extended to the amount of wildlife-killing that goes on as part of routine grouse moor management.
We’re not sure who is advising the SGA on its media strategy these days but whoever it is, thanks a lot, you’re handing them to us on a plate.
Following yesterday’s news that two golden eagles have ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances on a Scottish grouse moor (here), schoolchildren are making a direct appeal to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to protect these birds.
This drawing, sent to Ms Sturgeon, is by nine-year-old Freddie. It was shared on Twitter yesterday by his family @blackerschat
And this one was drawn by Nicola Penfold’s seven-year-old boy, also called Freddie [@nicolapenfold]:
This idea was suggested by award-winning children’s author Gill Lewis. Gill’s latest book is ‘Eagle Warrior‘ and was inspired by the story of golden eagle Fred who vanished under suspicious circumstances from the Pentland Hills last year and whose satellite tag ended up in the North Sea.
Following yesterday’s news of golden eagles Adam and Charlie, Gill posted her own drawing of an eagle and a plea to the First Minister on Twitter to ‘stop the persecution’ and encouraged others to do the same:
So far, the First Minister and the rest of her Cabinet have remained silent about the news of Adam and Charlie. They have also failed to comment about the recent discovery of hen harrier ‘Rannoch‘ who was found dead in May on another Strathbraan grouse moor with its leg caught in an illegal trap, and they’ve remained silent about the suspicious disappearance of hen harrier ‘Marci‘ who vanished from a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park in April.
We’ve been encouraging blog readers to email the First Minister [ FirstMinister@gov.scot ], as Andy Wightman did yesterday (see here) to call for action against those who continue to kill birds of prey in Scotland.
But if you’ve got kids who like to draw, sending the First Minister a picture and a plea to help from them cannot be so easily ignored.
This morning we blogged about two satellite-tagged golden eagles, named Adam and Charlie, who have ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances on a Scottish grouse moor (here).
We published a video about the loss of these eagles and we all watched an emotional Andy Wightman MSP try to retain his composure as he talked to Chris Packham about how he felt when he was told that ‘his’ eagle, Adam, was one of those that had vanished.
Watch the video here:
This afternoon, Andy has written to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon urging her to take action against the ongoing issue of illegal raptor persecution on grouse moors.
Here is a copy of that letter:
Like Andy, you too can write to the First Minister. You can write her an email.
You can talk about how you felt when you heard about these two missing golden eagles.
About how you felt about the 50+ other satellite-tagged golden eagles that have ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances on or near to grouse moors in the last ten years.
About how you feel every time you read another news article about the illegal killing of birds of prey on land managed for game shooting.
About how you feel when what looks like clear cut video evidence of an alleged crime against birds of prey is thrown out of court and the suspect walks free without trial.
About how you feel every time the Scottish Government says ‘raptor persecution won’t be tolerated’ but then it is, time and time again.
Please take the time to contact Nicola Sturgeon. She’ll be delighted to find out just how many people would support her to take action. You don’t need to be a Scottish resident to write to her – in fact the more correspondents from overseas, the better. This is an international embarrassment to Scotland and the time has come for regulation.
Press release from Raptor Persecution UK and Chris Packham (1 July 2019)
TWO GOLDEN EAGLES VANISH IN SUSPICIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES ON THE SAME MORNING, ON THE SAME SCOTTISH GROUSE MOOR
Two young satellite-tagged golden eagles have disappeared in suspicious circumstances, within hours of each other, on the same Scottish grouse moor.
The two eagles, named Adam and Charlie, were being monitored by TV broadcaster Chris Packham and Dr Ruth Tingay of Raptor Persecution UK as part of a wider scientific study in to the movements of young golden eagles in Scotland.
Adam and Charlie vanished from the Auchnafree Estate in the Strathbraan area of Perthshire on the morning of 18th April 2019. The eagles’ satellite tags, which had been working perfectly well for one and two years respectively, suddenly and inexplicably stopped working (Charlie’s at 06.25hrs and Adam’s at 11.39hrs) just 3.4km apart. Both the tags and the eagles have since been untraceable.
A police-led search of the eagles’ last known locations on the grouse moor has failed to yield any further information about their fates. There is no evidence to suggest the estate’s involvement with these disappearances.
One of the eagles, ‘Adam’, had been named and adopted by Andy Wightman MSP in June 2018. Wightman is the Scottish Parliament’s Species Champion for the golden eagle and had visited the eagle’s nest site last year to watch researchers fit the bird’s satellite tag. He’d named the eagle Adam as a tribute to the late ecologist and mountaineer Dr Adam Watson.
[Andy Wightman MSP with golden eagle Adam at approx 9 weeks old in the Loch Lomond National Park. Photo by Ruth Tingay]
Both Adam and Charlie had hatched at separate nests in the Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park in 2018 and 2017 respectively, and their satellite tags had allowed researchers to follow their movements with incredible precision.
The circumstances of their disappearances, in a region previously identified as a raptor persecution hotspot, are virtually identical to the suspicious disappearances of more than 50 satellite-tagged eagles in Scotland, as revealed in a Government-commissioned report published in 2017.
That report found that almost a third of all satellite-tagged golden eagles have disappeared without trace on or next to a driven grouse moor in known raptor persecution hotspots, giving rise to what Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham called “legitimate concerns” that high numbers of golden eagles continue to be killed in some areas of Scotland each year.
In response to that report’s findings in 2017, the Cabinet Secretary ordered a review of grouse moor management practices with a view to introducing a licensing scheme for game-shooting estates. The review is due to be published this summer.
Andy Wightman MSP said: “I am shocked and devastated by the disappearance of Adam, a young golden eagle, whom I spent time with when he was nine weeks old. The cold rage that I felt when I heard of the circumstances of his disappearance has now developed into a determination to discover his fate.
This latest outrage should be a wake-up call to the Scottish Government that for all their reviews, inquiries and reforms, rampant criminality remains in place across many of Scotland’s driven grouse moors”.
Chris Packham said: “We can’t prove that harm has come to Adam and Charlie, nor who might have been responsible, but we can look at the circumstances, look at the science, look at the wider evidence and draw plausible conclusions. The Scottish Government has already acknowledged that illegal raptor persecution is an ongoing problem. How many more golden eagles do we have to lose before that same Government takes effective action?”
Anyone with information about the suspicious disappearances of Adam and Charlie is urged to contact Police Scotland on 101, or the RSPB’s confidential raptor crime hotline 0300 999 0101.
We’ve produced a video about the suspicious disappearances of these two young eagles:
We’d like to thank the National Wildlife Crime Unit (particularly Charlie Everitt and Lou Hubble), Police Scotland and the RSPB Scotland Investigations Team for their significant joint partnership work on this investigation, from analyses of the satellite tag data right through to an especially thorough land search and subsequent follow up work.
We’ll be posting more on this shortly.
So here we are again. Not just another golden eagle lost, but two, on the same morning in the same area. This news is likely to lead to anger, despair, and a sense of impotency and futility.
What can we do?
We can hold the Scottish Government to account. They’ve been promising to deal with this for 20 years, ever since the Scottish Parliament was formed. It’s been noticeable, in recent months, that every time a confirmed or suspected raptor persecution crime has been reported, the Scottish Government has responded with silence.
Please consider writing to both the Environment Cabinet Environment Secretary, Roseanna Cunningham, and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Be polite but be clear – this appalling toll on our wildlife must end.